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Sexual Abuse & Trauma Bonding: Your Legal Rights & Recognizing Abuse

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP


Part One: Your Legal Rights and Recognizing Abuse

By Dana Gambardella, Law Intern

Have you witnessed, or experienced, a relationship that makes you question whether someone is in love or simply entranced? You may have been subject to a relationship, or bond, founded in trauma. This type of bond is not reserved for only romantic relationships, rather, it can occur in any adult-to-adult relationship in which there is a power dynamic.[1] The relationship does not have to be long-term as a trauma bond can form over months, weeks, or even days.[2] 

Trauma bonding occurs when a victim becomes strongly dependent on the abuser due to coercive and manipulative tactics employed by the abuser. Experts studying trauma bonds in New York, state that three conditions must be met for a trauma bond to be formed:

  • First, there must be an existence of an imbalance of power between the abuser and the victim;
  • Second, the creation or upkeep of the power imbalance through coercive control tactics;
  • And third, there are rewards and punishments given by the abuser to the victim.[3]

It is common for these conditions to be met in circumstances surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence.

This type of coercive control is carried out using techniques such as surveillance of the victim, micro-regulation of the victim’s activities, threats and intimidation, and perceived or true isolation, couples with small spurts of gestures of love and devotion.[4] The biggest danger of trauma bonding is that the victim will have extreme difficulty leaving the relationship no matter the circumstances. The victim becomes more loyal to their abuser than they are to themselves and thus remain in dangerous situations.[5]

How Can You Recognize the Signs of a Trauma Bond?

The nature of a trauma bond makes it difficult for the victim to recognize as they are absorbed in the relationship in almost a spellbound manner induced by their abuser’s manipulation and their biology. Thus, it can be helpful to identify some of the signals that a trauma bond may be present.

Victims of a trauma bond will try to justify or defend their abusers in that they may agree with the abusive person’s reasons for treating them poorly. When friends or family try to help, the victim may distance themself, isolate, or argue with them. They may even become hostile when someone attempts to stop the abuse. The victims will be unwilling to take steps to break the bond as they will have an extremely hard time detaching from their abusers.[6]

Victims will overidentify with the abusers by empathizing with them. They may feel indebted to the abuser as a result of small rewards or may feel a sense of worth stemming from the belief that the abuser needs them in the abuser’s life. The victim may cover up their feelings to match those of the abuser essentially hiding their negative feelings in the presence of the abuser. Finally, the victim will excuse and explain away the actions of the abuser.[7]

The Next Step

Abuse is never the victim’s fault. Our firm recognizes that trauma bonds developed as a result of abuse are not either. Step one is leaving the abusive situation. Step two is holding the abuser accountable for their actions. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, our firm is here to help you receive financial compensation and the justice you deserve.

Contact us at (212) 684-1880 to learn more about our services.








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